Sunday, June 18, 2017

In a troubled world - Isaiah speaks to today

Text of the Week: … cease to do evil, learn to do
good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the
orphan, plead for the widow. (part of Isaiah 1:16-17)

Welcome to our services today and a special welcome
to any who are worshipping with us for the first time.
During this morning’s service we share in the sacrament of the
Lord’s Supper: we invite all who love the Lord Jesus Christ to
share with us in communion. You can tell from the Bibles I
have used which parts of the Bible are my favourites. The New
Testament is well-thumbed, especially the Gospels. And in the
Old Testament it’s the Book of Psalms that has been opened
more than any other. Hard on the heels of the Psalms come
the Prophets, and in particular Isaiah. But Isaiah is a long
book. In Fresh from the Word our readings from the Bible take
us to the first 39 chapters of Isaiah over the next couple of
weeks. When you allow someone else to lead you through
even a favourite book of the Bible they will no doubt take you
to parts of that book that haven’t recently caught your
attention. Catherine Williams, from Tewkesbury, does that for
me this week as our readings build up to a climax in one of my
favourite passages in all the Bible, the call of Isaiah in chapter
6. There are some surprises in store as we build up to that
chapter and as we read that chapter in full. And some of them
are not easy to get your mind round. But as I read through
them I cannot help but feel that this wise figure from a distant
past has something very pertinent to say about the world of
today.



Welcome and Call to Worship

A time of praise with Hy-Spirit

Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

Play Springwatch highlights of Sherborne while reading Psalm 84


Sensational Sherborne
  
Psalm 84 – the Congregation

O Lord of hosts,
   Blessed is everyone who trusts in you.

How lovely is your dwelling place,
   O Lord God almighty!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
   for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
   to the living God.

O Lord of hosts,
   Blessed is everyone who trusts in you.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
   and the swallow a nest for herself,
   where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
   my King and my God.
Happy are those who live in your house,
   ever singing your praise.

O Lord of hosts,
   Blessed is everyone who trusts in you.

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
   in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of the wilderness
   they make it a place of springs;
   the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
   the God of gods will be seen in Zion.

O Lord of hosts,
   Blessed is everyone who trusts in you.

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
   give ear, O God of Jacob!
Behold our shield, O God;
   look on the face of your anointed.

O Lord of hosts,
   Blessed is everyone who trusts in you.

For a day in your courts is better
   than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
   than live in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
   he bestows favour and honour.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
   from those who walk uprightly.

O Lord of hosts,
   Blessed is everyone who trusts in you.

Lord Jesus Christ,
For the promise of your presence as we gather in your name
We give you thanks
For the promise of your presence to the end of the age
We give you thanks
For the promise of your presence in good times and in bad
We give you thanks
Be with us now and forever more,
A strength for the living of our lives.
Amen.

Look at the birds!

We’ve been watching Spring watch from Sherbourne – and I will show some clips of birds nesting

Springwatch – chitchat in the nest


Reading: Matthew 6:25-34

“This is why I tell you not to be worried
about the food and drink you need in order to stay alive,
or about clothes for your body.
After all, isn't life worth more than food?
And isn't the body worth more than clothes?

Look at the birds:
they do not sow seeds, gather a harvest and put it in barns;
yet your Father in heaven takes care of them!
Aren't you worth much more than birds?
Can any of you live a bit longer by worrying about it?

“And why worry about clothes?
Look how the wild flowers grow:
they do not work or make clothes for themselves.
But I tell you that not even King Solomon with all his wealth
had clothes as beautiful as one of these flowers.
It is God who clothes the wild grass
— grass that is here today and gone tomorrow, burnt up in the oven.
Won't he be all the more sure to clothe you?
How little faith you have!

“So do not start worrying:
‘Where will my food come from?
or my drink?
or my clothes?’
(These are the things people all over the world are always concerned about.)
Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things.

Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God
and with what he requires of you,
and he will provide you with all these other things.

So do not worry about tomorrow;
it will have enough worries of its own.
There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings.

 A Hy-Spirit Song
Activities for all over 3

It has been great to share the GIFT course in our Sunday services, at Explore and in four Day sessions at North Nibley over the last year.  GIFT stands for  Growing In Faith Together.

We began in the Bible with a set of services, a short course and a day session in the Autumn around the theme Faith in the Word.

As Christmas approached and into the New Year we looked at what it takes Being Church, the Congregational Way: we explored how we are called to be Christ-centred, Spirit-filled, rooted in the Bible, missional, worshipful, inclusive and well-managed. That was also the theme of our fourth Day together in North Nibley in the Summer.

Our second day just before Christmas and our second course, just after Christmas, looked at what we believe as Christians and how we are called to live A Life of Faith.

At our third day just before Easter and on Tuesday evenings in Explore during the summer we are looking at the way the Christian faith is a world faith that reaches out into the world. Faith in the World.  That’s the focus of our services now through the summer.

The Christian Faith is a world faith - it’s a faith lived in the world. It’s also a faith for the world. Next Sunday we’ll be reflecting on the way we pray for the world – returning to that theme, thy Kingdom come. When planning this sequence of services related to this theme six months ago the General Election was set by Act of Parliament to be on 4th May, 2020. Little did we expect that a General Election would have come and gone. It was way back then that we invited Adam Coverden who belongs to St Matthew’s to come and reflect with us on how our Christian faith does relate to our politics. Hard on the heels of that we will be celebrating our World Mission partnership, the Council for World Mission’s 40th Anniversary in its present form and welcoming to our evening service on 16th July Roderick Hewitt.

At the last of our Gift Course Explore evenings Maureen Williams will be joining us. Having been to Papua New Guinea in the 1980’s as a missinonary with the CWM she has kept in touch with the work of CWM ever since and will be sharing with us her insights – Felicity and I will also recall some of the involvement we have had with CWM over the years too. That’s this Tuesday evening.

So where do we turn in the Bible?

Just as we are beginning this sequence of services Fresh from the Word takes us to one of the most political of all the books of the Bible, the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.

You can tell from the Bibles I have used which parts of the Bible are my favourites. The New Testament is well-thumbed, especially the Gospels. And in the Old Testament it’s the Book of Psalms that has been opened more than any other. Hard on the heels of the Psalms come the Prophets, and in particular Isaiah. But Isaiah is a long book. In Fresh from the Word our readings from the Bible take us to the first 39 chapters of Isaiah over the next couple of weeks. When you allow someone else to lead you through even a favourite book of the Bible they will no doubt take you
to parts of that book that haven’t recently caught your attention. Catherine Williams, from Tewkesbury, does that for me this week as our readings build up to a climax in one of my favourite passages in all the Bible, the call of Isaiah in chapter 6. There are some surprises in store as we build up to that chapter and as we read that chapter in full. And some of them are not easy to get your mind round. But as I read through them I cannot help but feel that this wise figure from a distant
past has something very powerful to say about the world of today.

We’re going to be focusing on the first 39 chapters. In case you have any doubts about how political this book is going to be the opening verse is absolutely clear. This book is going to be about what’s going on in the southern kingdom of Judah and its capital city, Jerusalem in the 8th century Before Christ.

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Interestingly, in II Kings 15ff and in 2 Chronicles 26 ff you can read about wat the government of these kings was like. Uzziah was also known as Azariah: while he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, his rule left a lot to be desired; the same could be said of Jotham’s rule. Ahaz, on the other hand, did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord according to II Kings – his reign was a grim period of trouble. It’s the very last of these kings who is praised more than any of the others – it’s as if by his reign Isaiah has been taken notice of.

He had already begun to speak out, in the reign of Uzziah, but it was in the year that Uzziah died that he had his call … it’s one of those great passages in the Bible that speaks of the call we all have to take our faith into the world and make a difference.


In the year that King Uzziah died,
I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty;
and the hem of his robe filled the temple.
Seraphs were in attendance above him;
each had six wings:
with two they covered their faces,
and with two they covered their feet,
and with two they flew.

And one called to another and said:


‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called,
and the house filled with smoke.

And I said:

‘Woe is me! I am lost,
for I am a man of unclean lips,
and I live among a people of unclean lips;
yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’

Then one of the seraphs flew to me,
holding a live coal
that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.
The seraph touched my mouth with it and said:

‘Now that this has touched your lips,
your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,

‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’
And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’

251 I the Lord of sea and sky

As we join company with Catherine Williams of Tewkesbury, this week, we are going to read some pretty difficult stuff. Isaiah is relentlessly critical of what he sees going on in the world around him.  It’s a pretty grim world.


Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth;
   for the Lord has spoken:
I reared children and brought them up,
   but they have rebelled against me.
   Why do you continue to rebel?

When I read passages like this I cannot help but feel this is a strange world, a different world, a world long ago. But then as I make allowance for the imagery, for the language used. The thing that strikes me when I do Old Testament biblical history is that this is our world.

We are making a mess of things. The abominable atrocities of the terrorists in Manchester and London Bridge are almost aimed at stirring up the worst in us – of fear and then of division. And yet they bring out the best in our communities.

Kensington and Chelsea – the richest borough in the land has the greatest poverty in the land – the money-saving in  the cladding and the absence of any official emergency response – somehow put the spotlight on the divisions of wealth and poverty in our society.

The Queen caught summed it up in an unprecedented Birthday message when she said “it is difficult to escape a very sombre national mood” and went on to speak of being “resolute in the face of adversity” and of being “profoundly struck by the immediate inclination of people throughout the country to offer comfort and support to those in desperate need.”

The Ofsted report on the inadequacy of children’s services in Gloucestershire this week I read. One paragraph caught my eye: “The majority of social workers have less than two years’ post-qualifying experience and, for too many, particularly those in their assessed and supported year in employment, the caseloads are too high and include complex cases that require a good depth of knowledge and experience.

Isaiah’s challenge to his time, is the challenge for our time. It’s there in verse 17.

It’s not the quality of your worship, not the festivals you celebrate that count …


learn to do good;
seek justice,
   rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
   plead for the widow.

He also holds on to a vision of God’s way of doing things – and draws that vision down to his age and his people. 2:2-4

Isaiah 2:2-4

   the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
   and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
   Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
   to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
   and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
   and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
   and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war any more.

That’s the resolve we need to share.

Communities coming together in Manchester and in London.

Commitment to make a difference.

Our faith is a faith for the world of this time.

Whom shall I send?
Who will go for me?

Here am I, send me.

There’s a twist in the tale. Read on in Isaiah 6 and you cannot help but realise – it’s not easy. People don’t get it. It’s an uphill struggle. And interestingly it’s the end of chapter 6 that Jesus quotes when explaining his parables – they are not nice children’s story. They outline a hard way to follow that’s tough.

Maybe we need to turn again to the presence of Christ, and a strength from beyond ourselves in the Holy Spirit as we seek strength for the living of these days.

We look to the challenge of a troubled world
We hear the call to do something about it
We recognise the reality of the troubles continuing
We return to that wonderful imagery from the world of God’s creation Jesus shared shared with, we meet in his presence and rejoice in
the care of God sustaining us in our commitment
to follow the way of justice and peace

Songs of Prayer and Worship

Prayers of Concern

Hy-Spirit song

The Lord’s Supper

A Hy-Spirit song


Words of Blessing

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light